When last we spoke, Halloween was upon us. The Canes were in the midst of their worst start through 8 games in franchise history. Alexander Semin was about to be benched. Justin Faulk was not playing well. And neither Anton Khudobin nor Cam Ward had been able to find their groove in goal.
What a difference a few weeks make! The Canes have pulled to within 1 game of .500. They sit just three points behind the Flyers for a playoff spot. Cam Ward has taken the reigns and is playing at an otherworldly pace, having stopped 123 of 130 shots over 5 games. Contributions are coming from up and down the lineup. Top stars like Jeff Skinner and the aforementioned Semin are buying in to the system Bill Peters wants to play. The team is tougher to play against, even so much so that after the most recent Flames game, Calgary coach Bob Hartley said that "[the Hurricanes] were the better team all over". That's high praise from a team that has been a surprise of the early season on top of playing one of the most difficult schedules so far.
If you read the last article though, you knew the possibility that the Canes would go on a run existed. Injury depleted Blue Jackets, tough travel for the Kings, advantageous match ups on back to back nights. If you listened to John and Trip during the Capitols game you may have even heard them mention in the second intermission that Bill Peters was telling his team that the Caps should be more worn out having played the Blackhawks the night prior, a point made in the last article.
I'd love to say I called it. Mostly I got lucky. Every once in a while Poor Richard says it's going to be a rough winter and it turns out correct. Given how well (lucky) I did last time, and the ominous words I used to describe the upcoming set of games, I think the time has come to look ahead once more, and see what the schedule has in store for the Hurricanes through Thanksgiving Weekend.
Thursday night against the Jets is the last game I had in the previous article. At the time the Jets were last in the Central Division. Now, not so much. They are now third in the Central, ahead of Chicago. The 16 points they've scored over the last 10 games trails only the Penguins who has scored 17 in that time frame. The Jets are playing as well as any team right now. Winnipeg plays Montreal at home Tuesday night before heading to Raleigh for Thursday's game. Paul Maurice has his boys playing well. No doubt he wants this game. Amazingly enough the game Thursday is going to be an important one for both teams.
Following the Jets game the Canes travel to Boston for a 1 o'clock Saturday game. Boston plays at Montreal on Thursday. That is no doubt going to be a slobberknocker. That's about the only benefit the schedule gives the Canes. In spite of the injuries to the blue line the Bruins are still one of the top teams, matching Winnipeg's 16 points over the last ten games. The game is in Boston, where the Bruins are 6-4-0 to date. It's not the best home record in the league, but that doesn't mean it's an easy place to play.
The next day the Canes return home for a 5:00 o'clock Sunday game against the Sharks. San Jose is 5th in the competitive Pacific Division. Currently with 18 points they are 5 points ahead of the Canes. San Jose, like the Canes, will be playing their third game in three nights. San Jose plays Tampa and Columbus before coming to Raleigh. Winnipeg and Boston will give the Canes fits, they can only hope that the Lightning and Blue Jackets do the same to the Sharks. Perhaps the 5:00 PM eastern start will be odd for the Sharks. Again, the schedule isn't doing the Canes many favors here.
The Canes then head out on a five game road trip. The first three games are against the Stars, the Kings, and the Avalanche. The Stars are currently last in the Central, with the Avalanche directly above them. Dallas is still trying to find themselves as a team after the off-season acquisition of Jason Spezza and signing of Ales Hemsky. The Avalanche do not seem to be able to recapture the form of last year. Neither team will be a push over. The defending Champion Kings are a bit hot and cold this year, but still have to be considered one of the top teams in the west.
The Canes then round out the road trip at Florida and at Pittsburgh. The game against the Panthers is one of the few the Canes should be at least an even money shot if not favored. Pittsburgh, not so much. Whatever Jim Rutherford seems to be doing in Pittsburgh sure is working. Pittsburgh currently sits 4th in the league, but with sufficient games in hand against teams 1 thru 3 to overtake them with a few wins.
The last game in November sees the Canes return home to finish up a home and home against the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game that will be featured on Hockey Nigh in Canada.
So the schedule gods giveth and they taketh away. There are 9 games left in November, only three of which are at home. A five game road trip through some tough barns.
Time for a little prognosticating.
Best Case Scenario: Canes go 0.500 or slightly better on this upcoming group of games and enter December within one game of 0.500 for the year. This requires a goaltender to steal a game or two, the Canes to get a lucky bounce once or twice, and the Canes to beat the teams they should. It's possible, but it will take a lot of work. With so many tough games on the road against tough opponents going 0.500 or better will keep the team within an eyelash of the playoffs and prime them for Jordan Staal's return near the first of the year.
Worst Case Scenario: The wheels fall off the bus and the Canes undo any positive momentum they've built over the last two weeks. Just like a 6-0-1 run was possible two weeks ago, a 2-6-1 stretch is possible here. There are few favors in the schedule through the end of November. Lots of road games against tough teams can add up to lots of losses for even the best teams.
Most Likely Scenario: A few points below 0.500. Something perhaps on the order of 3-4-2. Hopefully the Canes keep things going Thursday against the Jets. The game against the Panthers is another the Canes should win. They should also be able to take 1 of the 2 against the Stars and Avalanche. From there, they eke out a few points here and there. They enter December 8-10-5 with 21 points through 23 games. That leaves 72 points to acquire in the last 59 games, or a pace of 100 points over a full season, to make the playoffs assuming the 93 points from last year holds true this year. That keeps the playoffs in the realm of possibility as the schedule eases up a bit in December and January and the Canes get Jordan Staal back at some point in that time frame. The road is still difficult, but it's possible.
Nothing to do now but sit back, and see how it unfolds.